The mother of a 15-year-old French-Swiss boy who was allegedly sexually assaulted by two Emirati men accused authorities Thursday of lying about a defendant's HIV status to cover up the fact that AIDS exists in this booming Arab city-state.
The case has exposed deep rifts over attitudes toward homosexuality and what critics call an outmoded legal system, mixing religious and tribal values.
Dubai officials have defended their handling of the case and said the teenager and his family were treated fairly. They have refused to comment publicly on the mother's accusations, and the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington also had no immediate comment.
The mother, Veronique Robert, a French journalist, told The Associated Press in Paris that she had obtained an official document, dated 2003, indicating authorities in the United Arab Emirates knew one defendant was HIV positive then.
Nevertheless, Emirates authorities told her and French diplomats on four separate occasions after the July attack that none of the three defendants was HIV positive, she said.
"This was a lie of the state," Robert said. "They willfully prevented us from getting treatment for our son so that, above all, nobody would find out that AIDS exists in the Emirates."
The teenager and his mother also accuse a police forensic doctor of calling the boy a homosexual while examining him after the alleged assaults.
Robert said she and her son, who previously had attended school in Dubai, where his father works, left the country early last month because French diplomats told her that her son might be prosecuted for homosexual acts, a crime here.
The AP is using Robert's name with her agreement, but is not identifying her son.
French officials have not commented publicly on the case, but a French diplomatic official in Paris, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said French officials had asked Dubai to do everything possible so that the attackers are held responsible in court.
Two Emirati men, age 18 and 35, are on trial in Dubai, charged with kidnapping Robert's son and another French boy, who were headed home from a shopping mall at the time, and sexually assaulting Robert's son.
A third defendant, also accused of taking part in the assault and also Emirati, is being tried in a juvenile court, where the proceedings are closed to the public.
Last week, the two adult defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping with deceit and illicit sexual intercourse. The Emirates' legal system prohibits the media from naming the defendants until a verdict is reached.
The case has caused controversy in this affluent tourist hub, which boasts a prosperous economy and where European tourists and expatriate workers mingle with a more conservative Arab society.
Some expatriates - both European managers and low-paid laborers, mostly from Asia - have long complained that foreigners, who far outnumber Emirati citizens, have few legal rights in Dubai.
Earlier this week, about 4,000 south Asian workers were jailed for several days for going on strike to ask for higher wages - also against the law.
Many Emirati citizens defend their legal system.
Khalifa al-Shaali, a former Dubai police chief now dean of the law faculty at the University of Ajman, Dubai's neighboring emirate, said foreigners who come to the Emirates are mostly ignorant of the complex legal system, a combination of Islamic and tribal laws.
Al-Shaali said Emirates judges are fair and "don't look at religion or nationality" but that the judges, often deeply religious, "are under intense pressure, not from the political system but from their consciences."
"Some of us are afraid of newcomers, because we feel that social changes might slip beyond our control," al-Shaali said.
Dubai is one of seven semiautonomous city-states that make up the UAE. It, like much of the Arab world, remains largely hostile to homosexuality.
The boy's mother, on a Web site she set up, called for pressure on Dubai to take basic steps to protect underage rape victims, such as ensuring they are tested for infectious diseases and get psychological help after an attack.
According to court documents, the alleged attack began when the juvenile defendant offered the two French boys, one of whom he knew slightly, a ride home from a Dubai mall. The two boys got in the car and were later joined by the two adult defendants.
The group drove to the edge of the Dubai desert, where the three defendants allegedly threatened the boys and took turns sexually assaulting Robert's son in the car, while the other boy was told to stay behind a sand dune, according to the court documents.
The 15-year-old told police that one defendant threatened him, saying he would "burn down your house and burn your parents after I've had sex with your mother."
After the attack, the two boys managed to get a taxi home. They reported the assault to police who arrested all three defendants the same day, court documents said. ( AP )